Cowichan 49ers players and their children hoist the Tony Grover Cup following their victory Sunday at Royal Athletic Park. (Kelly Wallace photo)

Cowichan 49ers players and their children hoist the Tony Grover Cup following their victory Sunday at Royal Athletic Park. (Kelly Wallace photo)

49ers repeat as Tony Grover Cup champs

Cowichan fends off Gorge to earn back-to-back titles

Two seasons, two titles.

In their two seasons of existence, the Cowichan Craig Street 49ers have won back-to-back Tony Grover Cup championships, the second one coming on Sunday when they knocked off Gorge 4-1 at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park.

It was a hotly contested match, and Gorge took issue with some of the officiating calls, but the end result was that Cowichan hoisted the cup, repeating as Vancouver Island’s top masters soccer team.

“We deserved the win,” 49ers coach Kevin James said. “The ref aside, penalties aside, red card aside, the bottom line is that we’re the Grover champs; we deserved the win…we capitalized on our opportunities.”

Gorge came out hard in the first 15 minutes, putting a lot of pressure on Cowichan.

“We were on our heels,” James admitted.

Gorge opened the scoring, and surrendering the first goal can be deadly to many teams, but Cowichan displayed resilience.

“I wasn’t worried when they scored their goal,” James said. “I knew our guys would bounce back. In some regards, it was good that they scored first. In that scenario, it allowed us to relax and say let’s just play our game.”

Cowichan’s Brad Thorne tied the score before halftime, easing the pressure and sending his team to the break in good spirits. Also in the first half, a Gorge player was handed a red card for earning his second yellow of the game, which opened the field up more for Cowichan.

For most of the match, Gorge was unhappy with the officiating. Cowichan was awarded two penalty shots, both of which were converted by George Thomas. The first one, James said, was an obvious call, but the second one could have gone either way, and some refs might not have called it in a cup final.

“On the coaching end if it, I definitely see [Gorge’s] side of it,” James said. “But in the letter of the law, yeah, it was a penalty.”

Contentious or not, the 49ers weren’t going to let those chances pass them by.

“We capitalized on our opportunities,” James said. “It says a lot about our team that we did that. I can’t stress enough that when you get an opportunity in a game like that, you have to capitalize on it.”

After Cowichan made it 4-1 on a goal by Stu Barker, Gorge was given a penalty shot, which they appeared to score on, but the ref called it a no-goal and awarded Cowichan a free kick.

Cowichan hadn’t beaten Gorge during league play, having to settle for a loss and a tie, and James still believes the teams are closer than Sunday’s score would suggest.

“It was two evenly matched teams,” he said. “To be honest, 4-1 is not a score line that should be between our two teams.”

Thomas’s two penalty-kick goals helped earn him MVP honours.

“I can’t say enough about George,” James said. “He’s our leader on the field. He always comes through in big games, in big moments. He’s an impact player. I don’t think anyone in the league is a bigger impact player than him.

“He sets up or scores big goals in big games all the time.”

As Cowichan and Gorge prepare for the upcoming provincial over-35 tournament, where UVic Alumni will also represent the Vancouver Island Soccer League, James reiterated his high regard for Gorge.

“Hopefully, we don’t draw each other in provincials until late in the draw,” he said. “All three teams out of the VISL will be supporting each other. We have a lot of respect for Gorge and UVic.”

The 49ers set the goal this season of winning the league title, repeating as Tony Grover Cup champs, and winning the provincial tournament. Two down, one to go. Provincials, though, will be the biggest challenge of the three.

“Every single team is top-notch,” James pointed out.

“There are no weak teams. Vancouver has a huge base, they have ex-pros on their teams. To win, you need to have chemistry, you need to have skill, you need to have drive, and you need to have good luck. You need a lot of things going in your favour.”

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